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Agriculture was a major topic of discussion at the annual meeting of the American Association of Geographer. Small farmers in developing countries was a popular topic with less focus on small farmers in developed countries. The successes and failures of community and school garden’s were also explored.
Themes for agriculture research moving forward were the need for research, policy and the food movement to work simultaneously in order to create change in the food system. There was also a discussion on how researchers could work with farmers and activists to help each other reach their respective goals.
Here is a link to the presentation I gave on my research: High Tunnels: One Solution to Farmers Crop Growth Challenges.
In my previous posts, I have highlighted the complexity of the food system as well as some of the problems with it. With the increasing population and unsustainability of the system, how will the inequities in and the environmental damage of the food system be addressed?
Agriculture currently encompasses 38% of the ice-free land on the planet. It has impacts both globally and locally. Agriculture contributes 30% to 35% of greenhouse gas emissions globally (Foley 2011). All the most productive land has been put into agriculture production and while over all yields are increasing, they are increasing at a slower rate and stagnating is some places (Foley 2011, FoodMatters). At the same time, population is increasing. Estimates are that food production will need to double by 2050 (FoodMatters).
Agriculture is facing increased pressure from a growing population while running up against environmental limits. The industry will need to address some critical problems moving forward. Agriculture needs to feed a growing population with nutritious food, while reducing greenhouse emissions (Foley 2011). In addition, agriculture needs to use water responsibly and reduce water pollution (Foley 2011).
Many interconnected solutions are necessary to address the problems that agriculture faces. The only land available left to clear for agriculture is mostly in the tropics. Because there is so little quality agricultural land left, agriculture needs to stop expanding and focus on intensifying production on the agricultural land that already exists (Foley 2011). Agriculture in many parts of the world is not producing as much as it could with the land available. Intensifying agriculture could close these ‘yield gaps’ by increasing production, thereby removing the threat to the most biodiverse land in the world (Foley 2011). Agriculture can also increase resource efficiency thereby decreasing its environmental harm and increasing the sustainability of the system. The most important elements to use more efficiently are nitrogen, phosphorous and water. Some places apply too much while some lack the resources to apply enough (Foley 2011). Evening the distribution of fertilizer and irrigation water will be critical to addressing resource use. The most important change that needs to take place is shifting diets away from meat . Because meat uses so many resources to be produced, reducing demand for it would reduce the pressure the agricultural system places on the environment (Foley 2011). The final piece to improve the food system is to reduce waste. Enough food is wasted to feed 1.9 billion people (FoodMatters). Food is wasted for two main reasons. In developing countries, they lack the appropriate resources to transport and store harvested crops. In developed countries, food waste occurs around how grocery stores, restaurants and households consume food (FoodMatters).
In order to accomplish the necessary changes to the food system, the inherent inequalities and globalized nature of the food system will need to shift. To address the suggested solutions, the inequalities between developed and developing countries must change. The priorities of efficiency and profit need to be adjusted to include resiliency and equity. For more on the latest in agriculture research see http://www.environmentreports.com/foodmatters/.
Foley, J., N. Ramankutty, K. Brauman, E. Cassidy, J. Gerber, M. Johnston, N. Mueller, C. O’Connell, D. Ray, P. West, C. Balzer, E. Bennett, S. Carpenter, J. Hill, C. Monfreda, S. Polasky, J. Rockstrom, J. Sheehan, S. Siebert, D. Tilman, D. Zaks. 2011: Nature. Solutions for a cultivated planet. 20 October 2011. 478.